LGBTQ employees and allies at the Department of Justice have voiced concern about the department’s stance on discrimination as expressed in cases currently pending in the Supreme Court.
In the employment discrimination cases Bostock v. Clayton County, Zarda v. Altitude Express, and R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the DOJ argued that current federal law, namely Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, does not ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and asked the high court to rule to that effect. The statue in question bans sex discrimination; the plaintiffs in the cases argue that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is sex discrimination. The court heard the cases in October and is expected to rule in the spring.
The leaders of DOJ Pride, the department’s group for LGBTQ workers and allies, has written to Attorney General William Barr to express “concern about employee morale” because of the arguments in these cases. The letter, dated Friday, was made public Monday, the Washington Blade reports.
“We recognize that the department was arguing in favor of a particular interpretation of a federal statute, and that it was not advocating that LGBTQ individuals are undeserving or unworthy of protections against discrimination,” the letter reads. “But many of our members did not perceive the department to have made such a distinction. Some reached out to us in alarm, afraid their jobs could be in jeopardy.”
In a survey of its members and the members of the DOJ’s Gender Equality Network, DOJ Pride “found a clear and negative impact on employee morale,” with all but one response reflecting “concern, dismay, and even distress about the cases,” the letter notes. Respondents said they feel the DOJ does not support its LGBTQ workers or think they deserve antidiscrimination protections, that these employees will be less comfortable coming out at work, and that the position will set back the DOJ’s “mission of promoting justice, fairness, and equality,” the document states.
DOJ Pride points out that Barr has said he personally believes there should be laws against anti-LGBTQ discrimination and that he issued a statement in April saying no opportunity would be denied to any DOJ employee because of sexual orientation or gender identity. It suggests that Barr reaffirm that policy and “call for a legislative fix” if the Supreme Court rules that Title VII does not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“As you know, the tone you set at the top reverberates far and wide, so we believe that these actions would have a meaningful, positive impact on the morale of the Department’s LGBTQ employees, and would reinforce that we are not second-class employees at the Department of Justice,” the letter adds.
Several news outlets have asked the DOJ for comment, but there has been no response so far.